By Alessandra Monnerat and Marina Estarque
Grupo Globo, the largest media conglomerate in Brazil and Latin America, announced on Jan. 19 that it would unify the newsrooms of its newspapers Extra and O Globo. As part of the process, the outlets fired more than 30 journalists. According to the editorial director of O Globo, Ascânio Seleme, the measure aims to streamline costs and implement “radical” changes, which should turn the focus of the outlets to digital production.
The idea is that a single team will optimize the production of journalism, working on bigger news sections for both newspapers. A Central Content Production Desk will lead the work, according to an internal statement sent to employees.
Despite the unification, the strategy designed by consultant Innovation determines that the two outlets maintain their distinct characters, with different newsroom directors and executive directors. “We are going to preserve the identity and DNA of each newspaper,” Seleme told the Knight Center.
So Extra will continue to be a more popular newspaper with simple language, an affordable price and will be focused on providing “essential services,” according to the company’s description. O Globo, one of the most traditional newspapers in the country with the biggest circulation, will still be focused on the wealthier classes.
Besides the difference in the choice of topics, the outlets have very different visual identities and approaches, even in relation to the neighborhoods. O Globo, for example, more closely covers the southern zone of Rio de Janeiro, the wealthiest region of the city, while Extra usually emphasizes the poorer areas outside of central Rio.
Seleme says that differences will not be a problem for unification because reporters are able to write in any style.
“If the journalist is in Baixada [a region of the periphery], covering a gang war, he will already write in Extra’s way. If he does an interview on the São Paulo stock exchange, he will write more with the style of Globo. If Globo also wants to publish on the gang war, we’re going to have to change the text. The reporter will try to fit the style of the newspaper where he’s writing,” he said.
According to him, some parts of the paper, such as the National section which covers politics and national affairs, will be less affected by this change because they will produce mostly for the same newspaper.
"Reporters from the National section will work much more for Globo than for Extra because the focus and the scope of their coverage are more in line with the profile of Globo readers,” he said.
In cases where the theme is the same for both outlets, Seleme explains that newspaper will maintain a differentiated approach. He cites as an example a change in the pension system. “O Globo is going to give the news as a structural change. Extra will be personal, will find a character that fits in this story, and will tell the story from the point of view of the citizen. The journalism from Extra is much more citizen-based and O Globo is more informative.”
Seleme said, however, that there are not separate editorial lines for the newspapers. Both follow, according to him, the Editorial Principles of Grupo Globo, which are valid for all outlets with the conglomerate, such as CBN, Revista Época, TV Globo, among others. So, the values are the same, what changes is the profile of the reader, Seleme said.
“We respect our customers, the reader of Globo will not be happy to read the headline ‘I lost my angel,’ with a family crying around a girl’s coffin, as came out in Extra recently. Of course the news of the girl’s death is important and is our on our front page: ‘stray bullet kills girl in cafeteria.' This is not an editorial line, it is a focus of coverage,” he said.
According to Seleme, the restructuring aims to emphasize digital. “The newspaper will remain important as it has always been, but 80 percent of the energy of the newsroom will be dedicated to the production of digital content,” he said.
To follow the new profile, the consultant recommended that the newsroom work in cycles - not in the rhythm of the paper, but according to “prime times” for news on the internet. With this, the newsroom would adopt a digital orientation starting with the conception of coverage to publication.
The director said that O Globo had already made an adjustment for digital. “We had all the editors moved to the morning, and deputy editors closing the paper. Now we’re going to be even more radical. The editors will come at 7 am. We will cover the 24-hour news cycle,” he said. The unification will also be physical: newsrooms from both newspapers will move to a newly constructed building in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
According to reporters heard by the Knight Center, the changes caused initial confusion in the newsroom. The layoffs rocked the team on a hot news day that included the death of one of the country's Supreme Court justices.
Layoffs and crisis
The restructuring, according to Seleme, allowed “the streamlining of costs.” “We had two teams of photographers, two [teams] for video, two [teams] of designers, two for art and so on. So by bringing these [teams] together, we were able to focus our efforts on quality journalism, getting rid of redundancies,” he said.
According to him, the final team will be 32 people smaller. This includes people that will be hired because, according to the director, it was necessary to call in professionals who fit the new digital philosophy.
Some of the laid-off professionals had been in the company for more than a decade and entered as interns, according to Comunique-se.
Seleme said that restructuring was necessary to “keep a large structure of quality journalism alive.” The director explained that the company needs to make its digital products profitable to survive the crisis.
Like O Globo, Brazilian newspapers have suffered not only from the recession in the country, but from structural business problems that have hit newspapers around the world. Companies are seeing a decline in print advertising and sales - and increased revenue from paid digital circulation is still not enough to offset the losses. This is because, among other reasons, ads are much cheaper on the internet than in print, which represents a decrease in revenue for the newspapers.
From 2015 to 2016, the average numbers of print papers in the country fell 18 percent, while digital subscriptions grew 10 percent, according to the Instituto Verificador de Comunicação (IVC). With a budget in the red, many media companies sought to cut spending and to reduce their newsrooms. In 2016, according to a survey from Comunique-se, more than 500 professionals of the Brazilian press were dismissed.
In the case of Globo, the newspaper sold an average 193,079 copies of paper in 2015, which was reduced to 169,673 in 2016 - a drop of about 12 percent. Digital subscriptions went from 118,143 to 132,552, an increase of just over 12 percent.
“The entry of resources through digital subscriptions has not been taking place at the strength and speed we need. We lost more of the print than we gained in digital,” said Seleme. He commented that, however, the online audience have been very high. According to the director, a story by Patricia Kogut recently had 4 million pageviews in one day.
“It’s an astronomical audience, but we do not have the monetization. We need more paid subscribers, he said. Therefore, the director defended the production of digital content with superior quality, speed and depth. “We have to make the reader feel obligated to buy.”
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.